Last year I helped Abby Denson put together a guide to eating at and generally getting through the Angoulême festival (which is actually called le Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, aka FIBD). Abby’s list of tips is still pretty current, and really covers most of what you need to know to survive in style, so for this year’s festival I thought I’d up the ante and make more of a food-lover’s guide to Angoulême.
First of all, my perspective is that whether you’re ordinarily a foodie or not, if you’re coming from abroad to France, you expect to eat well even if your primary purpose in coming is comics. But it’s all too easy to end up eating mediocre bistro food (i.e. chewy steak with ungreat frites) or kebabs the whole time. None of which really gives you the flavor of where you really are, which is, in this case, southwest France. So let’s start with the basics.
Angoulême is the biggest town in Charente, which is a department (equivalent to a county), which is one of four in the région (like a state) of Poitou-Charentes. Poitou-Charente, and most of southwest France, is the bread basket of France. Lots of the nicest fruits and veg come from here. It’s also the poorest region in France, and doesn’t have a lot of internationally-known specialties, with the exception, of course, of cognac, which comes from very nearby here. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t great local fare here. Anything labeled as “Charentais” means it’s a local item, so you can look for that.
Charentais highlights, with sources below:
Some of the best bread in France is found here. Forget those crispy Paris-style baguettes (as nice as they are), here we have crusty, chewy, serious white bread, and some very delicious whole-grain ones as well. Make a stop at Le Moulin des Halles (best in town) just across from Le Chat Noir, and ask for a baguette des Halles (chewy white baguette) or pain bûcheron (whole grain). You can also get all the basic pastries, good of course, but they are nothing to write home about, not like the bread. (Note the galettes des rois down in the foreground, topped with paper crowns. See below for more on that.)
Le Moulin des Halles
Address: 3 Place des Halles, 16000 Angoulême, France
Another solid bread option, with more pastry:
L’Elysée Boulangerie pâtisserie
1 place Francis Louvel
I strongly recommend that you hit the indoor market while here. You’ll get better and more local options, and it’s affordable. Only problem is: where to eat your purchases? Abby recommended taking them back to the pro lounge in the Hôtel de Ville if you have a pro badge (see her post. It’s a great idea). You can also eat at the stands that serve hot food and have tables (and coffee and wine…), and you can find empty market stalls and perch there to eat your bread and cheese. Most or all vendors will sell almost anything in single servings. You can get a slice of cheese (a big slice, probably, but still), a few slices of salami (saucisson sec), one banana, kiwi, apple, or pear, a tiny portion of paté, a fresh yogurt, fancy pastries, or whatever floats your boat.
Les Halles Market (aka “le marché central”)
Place des Halles, Angoulême, France
hours: 8 am to 1 pm. (i.e. breakfast or lunch only.)
Restaurant inside the marché: Le Bistrot Bachelier.
This is actually one of the best restaurants in Angoulême. All food there is homemade by Mme Bachelier, and they are DUCK FARMERS. So their daily specials are two or three fabulous preparations of duck. All good, all of it. And a good deal, too. Excellent wines by the glass, excellent homemade cakes and desserts. Cheese plates, charcuterie plates, fresh oysters. This place is don’t-miss.
But note: get there by 12:30. Lunch only, except Fridays, when the market is open until 6 (usually). You can also get take out items, including duck rilletes with foie gras en croute at Bachelier, my personal fave. It’s just as you enter the front door on the left.
This region is known for chèvre (goat cheese) of all kinds (as well as, to a lesser extent, brébis – sheeps-milk cheese). You can find like 20 chèvres in les Halles at the two excellent cheese vendors. Look for ones rolled in cinders (grayish), fresh and firm ones (frais), more aged and firm ones (affines), soft and creamy (moelleux), or eat-with-a-spoon (cremeux). There are also fully-dried chèvres, which are delicious, but way too hard to eat with a knife—you have to shred them with a vegetable peeler. So avoid the “petits secs” unless you’re planning to bring it home to your air b’n’b.
Some we’ve tried and loved: St Clement, Le Gatinois, Rocamadour (tiny and perfect for a snack), and La Pigouille (which is a brébis). One very delicious, very local choice is Taupinette. I’ve even visited the (happy-appearing) goats who produce it.
I’ve talked to my regular vendor at Sous la Cloche (the cheese monger to the right as you enter the front door of the marché). They speak English, will cut a single serving of basically any cheese, and will have napkins, plastic ware, and advice available for out-of-towners. They are the cheese-whisperers.
Grillon, aka Charentais carnitas, is a local paté-like dish that’s eaten cold, by itself or on bread, often with cornichon pickles. I like it with mustard, too. Great for a cold lunch. You can buy this in any boucherie, as well as all grocery stores. It’s essentially pork muscle meat (no organs) cooked down to a soft pate texture, and much of the fat skimmed off. Then it’s pressed into a mold. You can buy it by the slice in boucheries, but it might be more convenient in its other common form: a small paper cup (“en boite”).
Technically a specialty of the Dordogne, but the zone really covers all of the southwest. Magret de canard (duck breast), confit de canard, magret fumé (a coldcut of smoked dried duck breast), rilletes de canard (like grillon but duck)…it’s all great. You will find duck everywhere, and it’s almost always a good bet. See Chez Bachelier in the marché central for a key selection at top quality. Cooking-free things you can get include the aforementioned magret fumé, duck saucisson sec, and rilletes de canard.
Charente proper is not on the ocean, but Poitou-Charente also includes the départment Charente Maritime, and some of the best oysters in Europe. You can get them in many restaurants, and quite reasonably in the market at Bachelier.
If you buy them by the dozen from one of the market vendors, you can get a dozen number 4s (that’s a size) for €5.90. And you can buy a little oyster knife from the oyster guy to shuck them yourself. If you like raw oysters, it’s one of the best bargains in France.
We are also very close to Bordeaux and that famous wine country. Lots of great deals on Bordeaux around here, but don’t miss local organic Charentais wines if you get the chance, such as Plantier des Chipres. You can get local small-batch cognacs at la Cave and Biscuiterie Lolmede (see below).
La Cave (wines and liquors)
13 Rue Ludovic Trarieux, 16000 Angoulême, France
Find local Charentais honeys at market stands or grocery stores. I recommend the chestnut (chataigne). Especially good when drizzled on aged goat cheeses.
Salted caramel. Delicious, and you can get various brands in all grocery stores and most tea shops (Biscuiterie Lolmède (see below), Super U, the supermarket right outside the entrance to the Champs de Mars tents). Also, one of the few local specialties that are cheap and easy (and legal) to bring home with you.
If you’ve got a way to share a pastry with pals (i.e. someplace to sit down and cut it, and share with several friends, it’s not a walk-and-eat treat) you might want to try a “galette des rois.” If you get the slice with the “feve” (little ceramic toy) inside, you get to be king or queen and wear the cardboard crown. Officially you’re supposed to eat galette only on Twelfth Night (you know, when the three kings finally showed up to adore Jesus), but in practice we’ve found that basically people eat it from mid December until almost mid February. Our kids collect three or four feves each in the season. If you want to do it up, buy a galette for 6 or 8 people from a bakery, and assign one of your group to sit under the table. Someone cuts the cake, and then the person under the table dictates who gets each piece for total fairness!
FYI there are actually two types of galette des rois, and the one local to southwest France is the brioché (which is brioche with sugar on top, a relatively hand-portable choice). You can get the almond-paste-filled feuilleté (puff pastry) one anywhere in France.
Fouées resemble square pita bread (although baked in front of your eyes over a wood fire), but it turns out they are a traditional Charentais street food treat. They’re only here during holidays and festivals, unfortunately. I could eat a fouée every other day. I suggest the grillon Charentais or the chèvre (goat cheese). A good, fast, and cheap lunch. More about fouees. Usually set up in front of les Halles (the marché).
Ty Breizh. The best crepe stand in town is often to be found in the open area in front of the museum, although last year were conveniently set up right across from the entrance to the Champ de Mars tents. A classy forest-green trailer, the proprietors are actually from Bretagne (home of crepes) and it shows. Terminology: savory crepes are made of buckwheat, and are not in fact called crêpes, but galettes. The standard recipe is cheese or ham and cheese, but they have lots of specialty items. For dessert, I recommend a crêpe with homemade caramel au beurre salée. You can also get a bottle of tasty Breton cider, sweet or sour, hard or child-friendly.
A biscuiterie, as the name implies, specializes in cookies. Lolmède specializes in “macarons à la ancienne” i.e. old-skool macaroons. Which means they are little almondy/flavored gumdrop-shaped chewy cookies but are not filled. A special treat. Although my fave at Lolmède is actually the chocolate-dipped madeleines. You can get tea, coffee, and very good hot chocolate in the pleasant café to accompany your cookies.
Also, if you need to get gifts for friends at home who are not comics fans (is there such a thing?) this is a great place to go. They’ve got all kinds of regional specialties (artisanal cognac, for example), lovely chocolates, gift boxes of macaroons, you name it. The owners are very comics-friendly and always do something special for the festival, too.
La Biscuiterie Lolmède
3 rue des Arceaux 16000 (just around the corner from les Halles/across the street from Hotel Mercure)
Brûlerie du Valois
Good coffee and tea, cosy upstairs room to take a break from crowds.
5 Place Francis Louvel
Café The & Compagnie. Nice new cafe with organics and pleasant proprietors.
6 Place Francis Louvel
Café Phenix. You can get your brownie and milkshake fix at this partially-American-run joint with a very lovely garden and glassed-in patio.
24 rue de la Cloche Verte
For those unfamiliar with dining in France, Abby has some great general tips. To which I will add only: when in doubt in a restaurant in southwest France, order the confit de canard (crispy skin duck leg) or magret de canard (rare duck breast). Almost always decent to great, and almost always on the menu.
Unfortunately, Chez Mémé is no more. The new spot in that location is not bad, but not as local-food oriented.
There is a new pizzeria in town, which is pretty good. Wood-fired oven. Little Comptoir, 33 Rue de Genève.
In all cases, you’re safer to have made a reservation for dinner during the festival. Or eat at Spanish hours (i.e. like 10 pm) and you can get in most places.
If you’re around still on Sunday night, virtually nothing is open but Chez Paul.
One more non-food-related, but very local tip: Do not miss a trip to the Comptoir des Images, a storefront right across from les Halles that features all local artists and publishers, of which there are lots and lots. This is a great opportunity to get a flavor (pun intended) of what Angoulême is really all about all year long. They will be open until 7 every day of the festival, and until 10 on Friday night. Comptoir means “counter”, as in service counter, or register, in case you’re wondering. As I was.
Happy eating, and good comics to one and all!